Why Supercars is serious about paddle shift, auto blip

A Gen2 steering wheel

Supercars’ long-awaited introduction of Gen3 next year is set to bring much needed cost cutting measures to the category.

However, one change to the make-up of Australia’s premier touring car championship has been seen by some as a bridge too far.

Among the proposed changes to Supercars’ next-generation machine is introducing paddle shift and auto blip technology.

As previously indicated by Supercars Commission member and Red Bull Ampol Racing driver Jamie Whincup, gear shifts will be managed electronically in the Gen3 cars.

The gearbox will be fitted with an electronic actuator, which is linked to either a paddle on the steering wheel or a lever.

When the gear change mechanism is pulled, a signal is sent via the ECU to change the gear and simultaneously ‘blip’ the throttle on the driver’s behalf.

In essence, Supercars wants to remove any chance of drivers getting it wrong, thus reducing wear and tear on gearboxes and engines.

Incidents like Tim Slade’s at Mount Panorama earlier this year would be a thing of the past, and over-revving of the engines on downshifts would be gone too.

Speaking with select media including Speedcafe.com, Supercars head of motorsport Adrian Burgess said cutting costs is at the core of the proposed move.

“In an ideal world for the long life of the gearbox and the engine, this is why you want electronic shifts; it will protect the engine and protect it from over revs,” Burgess explained.

“You can have a cleaner gear shift because the ECU is controlling the blip, as opposed to the driver controlling the blip.

“With the current system, the driver can over rev it and we do see huge differences just from one team to another in how good their drivers are at protecting the engine.

“But equally, a lot of the damage you get with these gearboxes is that timing, actual shift timing, isn’t quite precise enough.

“Then you get a lot of dog-to-dog damage and a lot of dog gear life damage. Those things, of course, because they’re human, it’s a human change.”

A proposed Gen3 steering wheel with paddle shift

Contrary to popular belief, it is not expected the initial cost of introducing paddle shift will be all that expensive, especially considering that the current Xtrac gearboxes will be retained.

There will, however, be a cost for the electronic actuators, which is factored into the whole cost of moving to the Gen3 platform.

The cost of the unit hasn’t been confirmed yet with Supercars in the midst of “testing a couple of solutions”.

While Supercars’ official party line is that both a lever and paddle set-up will be tested, Speedcafe.com understands it has all but been decided that paddle shift is the way forward.

Burgess maintains that there is still work to be done and a final call hasn’t been made, especially surrounding the auto blip element.

In the end, it comes down to maintenance costs, something which teams have long been crying out for.

“It will be electronic shift, whatever happens, there will be an electronic actuator on the gearbox that will actually make the shift, the only difference is whether the signal is coming from a flipper on the steering wheel or from the lever,” said Burgess.

“Like we’ve said before, we’ll test both of those systems when the prototypes are up and running.”

A Gen2 cockpit with gear lever at driver’s left

“We’re trying to make these cars easier to work on, longer lasting,” he added.

“We’re trying to reduce the operational costs incurred by the teams. So, it’s not a straightforward answer, as much as some people hope.

“People who are really passionate about having a gear lever. you can still have a gear lever, the key bit is whether you do the blip or not. That’s the bit that we need to probably overcome or have the debate and make a decision.

“We can leave the gearbox as is and just have a gear lever and let the driver do the blip, or, if we want to save costs and we want to protect the engines better and we want more life out of the gearboxes, then you go to the other extreme where you take control of the blip and you have a paddle shift gearbox.

“So, you can do that with a lever or with a paddle. It’s just a micro switch that asks the gearbox to change. So there’s a few ways to set this thing up.

“It’s a big debate. Is it the show? Should it be in the driver’s hands? Should it be in the hands of the software writers? There’s lots of implications to the show, to the product, but equally to the teams in terms of gearbox life, engine life.”

Burgess said he recognises there is a heated debate as to whether Supercars should make the move away from the ‘stick’ shift.

The decision will be left in the hands of the steering committee, which is represented by the teams and Supercars.

“We’ll take feedback from everywhere,” said Burgess.

“We obviously understand the fan base is vocal, and as it should be, so all these things will be taken into account when we make a decision.”

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